I have always loved fall, having been born a scorpio, and of course finding the many thrills and rewards of whitetail deer hunting in my later years has certainly added to the enjoyment of this special time of year.
I was on stand before first light for the opening day of rifle season in Wake County. It had been unseasonably warm, but luckily that morning had a slight chill to it. It sort of felt like fall. Our weather has been out of wack yet another year, but at least the deer have made a comeback from the EHD outbreak from recent years.
There was no wind in the forecast, however, after perhaps an hour following first light, a good breeze crept up in the woods. But that wasn’t all that crept up. As they are often described, as simply appearing out of nowhere, the three-and-a-half-year-old doe could have been teleported to my position for all I could surmise.
I hadn’t thought of shooting a doe on the first day, but this deer was by itself. I watched her for a few minutes and she made as if she was going to run off. She scampered a few yards and paused; it was all I could take. The 30.06 made the first crack in the morning light and the deer was down. I was on Harris Lake gameland, and I hadn’t heard a shot yet.
I descended the tree I’d climbed before dawn and returned to my truck to drop the stand, change clothes, and take my processing gear down to begin the work I’d gladly asked for. She was skinned, quartered and cleaned of meat in an hour or so and my opening day morning was in the book. Backstraps hit the grill the next night.
Four days later, I finished work around midday and noted the wind was right for an area I wanted to explore. It was a power line section on the other side of the lake from where I’d hunted on opening day.
I was on stand around 3:00 with the sun to my back and the wind in my face. It was warm, but not hot, and the wind was a variable 5mph out of the north.
I ended up having one of those unreal experiences.
I actually found myself in the presence of two bucks fighting for twenty minutes plus. They were in a thicket I’d taken a position on, and did the majority of their rumbling in there, and out of sight. It was absolutely nerve-racking. Crashing off trees and running around, I was sure it was a bunch of squirrels or crazy-ass raccoons. The ruckus went on for over a half hour. After a while I knew there was no way it was deer.
I’ve seen them rub trees, scrape the ground and lick branches, even a little light sparring, but never actually fighting. But then, the first and bigger deer stepped out, he looked like a good deal of steaks to me, but I was in shock and hadn’t put the pieces together yet. I wasn’t thinking of a bachelor group. So when his sparring partner chased him into the clearing I was in, once again, it was all I could take.
The 30.06 cracked again and the buck tumbled, but regained his footing and made for the opposite side of the power-line. I gave it a few minutes and decided to get down and see if I could find blood. This is a situation hunters do not want to find themselves in, but at times find themselves there regardless. I knew I had a good bit of light left, so I took my time and soon found what I was looking for.
The whitetail wasn’t completely expired however when I found him. I approached cautiously, but could tell he wasn’t going anywhere. I knelt by his side and placed my hand on his side. He protested slightly, but settled and remained calm. I was with him as he took his final breaths and I passed water to his lips, as I have on many occasions in the past, although never when I knew the animal was still alive. I guess it’s a last offering to quench the animal’s thirst that will become sustenance to extend my life, and I have always done so when I had water with me.
I only wish non-hunters could experience not only the thrill of that evening, but the reward of the harvest, the connection to the land, the personal and deep connection between man and sustenance; man and wildness. There was no jumping and celebrating, no high-fives or fist-pumping; only gratitude and experience.
If you can fool their noses, you can learn their worlds, and see things most could never fathom; all while obtaining the cleanest meat you can find. This hunt had nothing to do with a set of antlers, nor to ‘release’ anything within me. But, the way I see it, I am not absolved of the responsibility of the death of the animals I eat, because someone else raises and slaughters them. So, until the day I decide I can no longer be a meat eater, which I believe will come sooner because I do obtain much of my own meat, these moments will be about life, not death, regeneration and the circle we all are bound to, and living it as honestly and intensely as you can possibly imagine.
So, since the early gun season has been good to me, I’ve been processing meat….
And making jerky…
And there has been a nice drop of pecans from a favorite tree as well…
I love fall…did I mention that?